Starling Bank’s Anne Boden: ‘I was ashamed to be a banker’ | Big Indy News
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Starling Bank’s Anne Boden: ‘I was ashamed to be a banker’



Consider the world’s biggest financial technology companies and their founders — Vlad Tenev, Baiju Bhatt and Robinhood, the Collison brothers and Stripe, Jack Dorsey and Square (now Block). There’s a pattern: these are hard-charging companies, founded by sleek hipsters and geeks, all of them youngish men, most of them California-based.

And then there is Anne Boden: a 62-year-old Welshwoman who in her mid-fifties reinvented herself from corporate ladder-climber into an all-or-nothing entrepreneur. If tech founders are iconoclasts, then Boden is perhaps the most iconoclastic of all.

Starling, the digital-only bank she founded eight years ago, is mould-breaking too. It has been stealing customers from big lenders, turning a profit and is a rare British “unicorn” in the fintech industry, worth £2.5bn at its most recent fundraising, giving Boden herself a net worth of about £125mn.

Boden and I have crossed paths at industry events before but have never really conversed. She has been described to me as “brilliantly determined” and “quite difficult” by peers and former colleagues (the negative characterisation she will later ascribe to sexist stereotyping).

Thanks to Tube delays, I’m a few minutes late for our Lunch in north London’s pretty Primrose Hill. Boden is already ensconced in her favourite corner window seat at Odette’s. “A bit of Starling was built out there,” she says, pointing to the pavement terrace. Primrose Hill is hardly Palo Alto, or even Shoreditch, but the playbook is similar. “Building Starling, I used to sit there in the evening, have an early supper and work away on my laptop.”


130 Regent’s Park Road, London NW1 8XL

Sparkling water £4.75
Artichoke £11
Crab £18
Risotto £26
Hake £27
Clos de Nouys Vouvray Sec 2017 (bottle) £46
Cheese, bara brith £15
Rhubarb £11

Total inc service £178.70

Boden has also picked Odette’s in homage to our shared Welsh roots. She hails from Swansea, I’m from 20 miles further east and Odette’s owner-chef, the celebrated Bryn Williams, is a Welsh-speaking north Walian. (We both lament the fact that Welsh-speaking died out in our own families a generation or two ago, when aspiration for many people meant anglicisation.)

Boden’s ambition marked her out early. “My father would say I could do absolutely anything, there was no pressure on me.” And what was her response? “What I said was: ‘Can I go to Uplands bookshop to buy some more books?’”

Her otherness was rooted, too, in the home where she grew up — on the edge of a council estate but in a smart if modest private house. It was a “very aspirational” working-class home, she says. “My father was in the second world war and he spoke Italian from being in Italy. So every summer, we hitched the caravan and went to Italy and all round Europe.”

Boden went on to take what was then a cutting-edge tech and chemistry degree at Swansea university. “I’d always been in a house where I was encouraged to do techie things,” she says. “My dad initially wanted me to become a metallurgist” — which sounds zany, until you combine her natural instincts with her father’s job as a tool setter in the local steel factory.

We order and our starters arrive swiftly — for me, a rich artichoke mélange with savoury churros on the side; for her, crab crackers.

Boden’s route to fintech pioneer began back in 1981, when she got a graduate traineeship at Lloyds Bank. It wasn’t called “fintech” back then, but that’s precisely what she was doing when she joined the bank as part of its first intake of computer specialists. Within three years, she’d been drafted into a small team working with the Bank of England on replacing outdated telex-based payment transfer technology. That was the start of the Clearing House Automated Payment System, or Chaps, still core to UK banking today.

As the City of London boomed in the late 1980s in the heady days of Big Bang regulatory liberalisation, Boden began studying part-time for an MBA. A spell at PwC (“consulting was not really for me”) was followed by a switch to Aon and the Lloyd’s of London insurance market. “That environment is not used to having women,” she says of the Lloyd’s she knew in the 1980s. “The socialising is meant for men and not for women. When you’re in your career, you can’t say anything.”

But she’s keen now to revisit the topic. “I’m in a very fortunate position. I can say things, and I can call things out: the City is sexist.” She won’t expound further on her experiences at Lloyd’s, despite my three attempts to coax details from her — though she doesn’t dispute the reports of bawdy drinking games, prostitutes at dinners and drug-taking that I’ve heard from others.

So how did she deal with such an uncomfortable environment? “I didn’t. I just worked, right?” she says, adding the interrogative Welshism for the first of a dozen times during our Lunch. “So, my way of dealing with it was, everybody else would go out and I’d stay in the office and work.” Did that not give her a reputation for being boring, or aloof from the team? “I think it’d be a reputation of really knowing the facts the following morning,” she says, with a flicker of irritation.

Another career switch was imminent, though. And again Boden found herself part of a seminal moment in the history of modern finance. She was back in a banking role, this time at ABN Amro in Chicago, in a globetrotting job she loved. But by 2007, Fred Goodwin, then the growth-hungry boss of RBS, had spoilt the party, buying the Dutch lender, blowing up the combined group and being forced the following year into a bailout by the British government. “It was a big culture clash. ABN was very international, very broad-minded, intellectually interesting. [But] RBS is a very narrow organisation.” The deal, she is convinced, was always destined to fail.

Along the way, Boden was presented with one of the toughest management challenges of her career: explaining the implications of the group’s bailout to employees. “I had to stand in front of junior staff that had been in their jobs for 10 or 20 years and tell them that they’d been putting their bonuses every year into RBS stock and it was worthless. And then, in the afternoon, I’d have a conversation with an investment banker who complained about his bonus. And I was ashamed to be a banker.”

After the challenge of trying to manage a part-nationalised bank, her next move was from frying pan to fire — helping to run Ireland’s then all-but-defunct Allied Irish Banks, which had been at the forefront of the country’s boom-to-bust property lending drama. It didn’t last long. “I came to the conclusion that it was almost impossible to turn these banks into profit. Culturally, technology-wise, it was too difficult. And I started thinking about it: somebody should start a new bank. I could start a new bank. Then I started Starling.”

She says it casually. But when Boden first resolved to ditch a 30-year career in high finance, she had no idea that all the sexism she’d experienced would pale next to the challenges of her new chosen mission. Boden was used to prospering as an outsider. Now she really struggled.

Her long corporate career, she says, was probably seen as her biggest drawback. “People kept coming up with [that] and saying: ‘I don’t think she can do it.’” There was a good dose of misogyny and ageism, too. She recalls an early funding pitch when she and Tom Blomfield, her original co-founder (and later co-founder of Monzo), went to see prospective financiers. “We turn up for a meeting with an investor in Silicon Valley and there’s people playing ping-pong, and they look at the two of us and go: ‘What on earth’s going on here?’” Financiers doubted her but were drawn to Blomfield — a central-casting fintech founder in his late twenties.

The rebuffs might have broken someone with less resolve. “They’d look at me, a 5ft-tall Welshwoman who doesn’t look like a tech entrepreneur, and some of them will be rude to my face. I did that for two years, trying to raise the money.”

But a far more dramatic rejection was to come, after Boden and Blomfield fell out less than six months into their collaboration. The fissure was abrupt. “He said he was going, he was quitting. I think he was going to go to Chile,” Boden recalls. The company, which was on the verge of securing crucial funding, was plunged into chaos. Blomfield has said the issue was rooted in Boden’s management style, though both have been unforthcoming about details.

Boden’s way of dealing with Blomfield’s resignation was certainly unconventional. “I got everybody together,” she remembers. “And I said: ‘I’m giving you a week’s notice. And the only way this is going to [be avoidable] is if you try and convince Tom to stay.’” The mass sackings, she says, were inevitable, given that the funding injection would collapse without Blomfield in place. But why not talk privately to her key lieutenants and use them as go-betweens? Wasn’t an all-hands meeting both a sign of weakness and a sure-fire failure?

“I think I’m a very open book about things,” she says. “I don’t want to divide and conquer.” The London Business School, she tells me proudly, is doing a case study on her leadership. “They asked me the question: ‘Why did you show vulnerability, Anne, by doing that?’ I thought it would work.”

It didn’t. Everyone left the company and, under Blomfield’s leadership, set up Monzo, a higher-profile brand that today commands a higher valuation (though it is yet to make a profit).

In a rare pause in Boden’s narrative, I ask what she thought of her starter, and am struck by her seeming lack of interest in almost anything that doesn’t relate to her work. Pressed for a verdict, she judges the dish “very nice, quite tasty, with a bit of caviar in there”.

With no staff and a collapsed financing package, lesser people would almost certainly have given up on Starling. Not Boden. She revived her financing efforts — often bidding for funding against Monzo — before eventually securing the money from reclusive Austrian gambler-turned-adventurer Harald McPike. McPike has had his skirmishes with authorities: in 2014, executives at one of his companies were admonished by America’s self-regulatory National Futures Association for failing to co-operate in a prompt and timely manner with an investigation into the source of McPike’s money.

But Boden was curious. She was flown to McPike’s superyacht in the Bahamas for an investment pitch that is uncannily reminiscent of a Dragons’ Den scenario. She was looking for a £3mn investment that would value the business at £12mn. “Harry is a mathematical introvert, who is extremely detailed and spent three days grilling me on the detail. Then he offered me £48mn for 66 per cent.” She bit his hand off.

As our mains arrive — hake for Boden and risotto for me — I switch from the micro to the macro. As someone whose entire career has been focused on tech in one way or another, what does she make of the promise of technology, the teetering valuations of Big Tech groups, the “tech bro” culture? She tells me of a senior job at Microsoft that she got close to taking a decade ago before deciding against it. “I work faster than Microsoft,” she says. On the sector as a whole, she is very much an enthusiast. “I believe that technology can change the world and make it better. And, fundamentally, I want to be part of this new brave world of technology but I wish it wasn’t so narrow-minded.”

She’s clearly peeved by tech-bro whippersnappers. “Lots of tech entrepreneurs . . . think they’re the first people to say these statements, but the rest of the world has known about it for 20 years.”

Does she have a hero in her sector? With little encouragement she begins to laud Elon Musk. “I’ve read all his autobiographies and things. Of course, he’s a fintech entrepreneur, isn’t he? I find him quite incredible, as somebody who started at PayPal and has been in all these industries. And, despite the fact that I find him incredibly annoying, I have to applaud the ambition.”

Institutionally, she thinks Google is “still clever” but Facebook “has a problem”. Starling suspended advertising on Facebook, so annoyed was Boden about the company’s alleged failure to root out “fraudster ads”. She praises Google for doing a better job of screening out non-regulated financial firms but says her calls to Facebook over the issue have been in vain. What have they said? “They haven’t returned my calls.”

We return to Starling. “Within one or two years” it will, she pledges, be generating a return on equity of more than 30 per cent — more than the world’s most profitable banks — thanks, she says, to the economics of a branchless structure with low-cost IT unencumbered by older rivals’ legacy systems. There will be more acquisitions, as Starling looks to soak up its large base of deposits, with relatively low-risk mortgage portfolios. She shrugs off suggestions that an imminent recession is a bad environment for piling into lending: loans will be backed by plenty of collateral.

Starling’s stated ambition for some time has been a public listing next year, as early backers seek to crystallise their gains — though Boden doesn’t sound thrilled about the prospect. Will the glare of a public listing be stressful? “Yes, I think so . . . I’m quite enjoying things at present. I’m in no hurry.” And has she been persuaded by the British government’s charm offensive on tech companies to list on the London Stock Exchange? Nasdaq is an option, she says. “But the default is London.”

(A few weeks after our Lunch, I check in with Boden again. Tech valuations have been gyrating, spooked by runaway inflation and the war in Ukraine. Is she upbeat nonetheless? “Starling has been defying market trends and I’m still bullish. We’re a profitable company and still growing fast.” Starling received very public criticism from former counter-fraud minister Lord Agnew, who said it had done a poor job of preventing fraud in government-backed bounceback loans during the height of Covid-19 lockdowns; the bank has described that view as “very wrong”.)

We have been eating and chatting for two hours, but there is still time for dessert. Boden plumps for the only Welsh dish on the menu: a plate of bara brith, a kind of spiced fruit bread, with cheeses. I am less patriotic, lured by a trio of mini rhubarb dishes.

We’ve already touched on the tendency of our generations to leave Wales when we reached working age, given the dearth of good employment prospects. Now she tells me how proud she is of having done her bit to improve that — creating 800 jobs in Cardiff, including coding and other high-tech roles. Her efforts to help level up the region could be the start of something far bigger, she hopes. “South Wales used to be all about the steel industry and the coal industry, and then we went through the whole era of the Japanese television companies. And then it was call centres. Why couldn’t the next era be doing something more exciting?”

Patrick Jenkins is deputy editor of the FT

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Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

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Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

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The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

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Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

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